2009 Audi S5

The return of the sport coupe from Audi

2009 Audi S5

Audi has a mixed history for creating desirable coupes. Unlike, say, BMW, there really hasn’t been a regular two-door model of the A4 since it was introduced in 1994. Previous to that we got the Audi 80-based Coupe, but it was sold in North America with some pretty anemic engines and iffy reliability.

You really have to go back to the original rally god, the Coupe Quattro of the ‘80s, to find a two-door Audi with style, performance and room for four. That’s over 25 years! What took them so long? Thankfully, Audi got themselves back in the game with the new A5 and S5, taking careful aim at the aforementioned 3 Series and its variants. And since the S5 is the more sporting version, it’s the one AutoGuide readers will appreciate the most.

FAST FACTS

1. The S5 is powered by a 4.2L V8 with 354hp and 325 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Convertible versions of the A5 and S5 are due out later this year.

3. Priced at $51,400, Audi also offers the A4 for $40,700.

4. S5 models are only offered with Audi’s quattro system.

5. The optional Audi Drive Select system lets a driver chose “comfort,” “auto,” and “dynamic” modes for the throttle response, shift points and steering feel.

BEST AUDI DESIGN YET

Speaking of appreciating, it’s hard to grasp just how pretty this design is by just staring at a few photos. With a wide stance and that big grille, in person it just looks flat-out mean. Big 19-inch wheels fill the wide arches, and that character line that runs the length of the car stops looking like a first-generation Hyundai Tiburon. At least a little.

Inside, the attention to detail is admirable. Most of the cabin bits are shared with the new A4, so there’s definite continuity there. While it feels like I’m feeding the stereotype, Audi really does make the best interiors in the business, with fantastic materials, high-quality craftsmanship and easy-to-read gauges.

Fire up the S5 and you’ll hear one of Audi’s oldest motors, albeit tweaked slightly for this new duty. The 4.2-liter V8 is related to the one in the R8 and RS4, but isn’t nearly as manic. It delivers 354hp and 325 ft-lbs of torque, while maximum power doesn’t come until 6800 rpm, so it encourages you to rev it continually. When it warms up, the six-speed manual is snick-snick sharp, and makes working the box a real joy. Give it your full attention and the S5 will do 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds flat.

PERFORMS AS WELL AS IT LOOKS

It will also do something very rare for Audis: give you genuine feedback through the meaty steering wheel, although the resistance could be increased. You can throw the S5 into corners and it’ll just figure out how to sort it out before you get into too much trouble. Other than the RS4, this is not how fast Audis normally handle. They’re more seven or eight-tenth cars, rapid and secure but not terribly thrilling. The S5 is different, and hopefully predicts a new corporate attitude for Audi’s ‘S’ lineup.

Most of the changes can be credited to the reworked chassis and altered quattro all-wheel drive system, which allowed the engine to be pushed farther back in the body, aiding in weight distribution and ultimate performance. What’s it mean to you? Probably the most fun on four wheels when the weather gets icky, along with that fantastic V8 roar.

EXPENSIVE ENTRY PRICE

Pricing isn’t pretty as the S5 starts at $51,400, (65,900 CDN) although it comes equipped with all the toys you’d expect, including a full leather interior (go for the ‘70s-style Magma Red!), rear parking sensors, aluminum trim, three-zone air conditioning and a Bang & Olufsen sound system.

You could get a six-speed automatic for $1,300, but why bother? You should be shifting yourself anyway. The $2,390 DVD-based Navigation system also comes with voice control and a six-disc CD changer, and the Bang & Olufsen sound system is a worthy $850. And the $2,200 Technology Package includes adaptive headlights and a rear back-up camera. New for ’09 is the Audi Drive Select, which means you can tune the suspension and steering modes to your taste, but since the normal car is so talented, really question if you need it, especially at $2,950.

THE VERDICT

The nearly as rapid 335i xDrive Coupe (what a name!) starts at nearly $10K less, and once you add all the ‘right’ packages (Sport, Audiophile and Executive), you still only get to $51,000. But the Audi is more visually arresting and just as engaging to drive. Otherwise, the S5 doesn’t have much in the way of direct competitors. The G37 S Coupe comes close, but it’s still a league away from the Audi in terms of spit and polish.

So what’s on the horizon? There are rumors of an RS5 floating around, which has us intrigued, as does the idea of the 2010 S4’s new 3.0-liter supercharged V6 making its way under hood as well, saving at least some of the world’s fuel for another day.

There’s also a convertible version (which debuted at the Geneva Auto Show) coming soon, although that’s more enticing for the salespeople than it is the enthusiasts.

For now, the S5 remains one of the most thrilling – and thirsty – rides on the road today, but might already be outgunned by its own on-the-horizon mid-life crisis.

PLUS

Interior’s haptic happiness V8 engine roar Performance and handling

MINUS

Somewhat cramped rear seat Sits halfway between 335i and M3 both in price and performance Expensive options

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